This is the simple, Merriam-Webster definition. It is truly much more complicated and complex than that. Dissociation, in the psychological context, occurs when a person, and in many cases a child, separates or compartmentalizes various experiences, emotion states, traumas, etc that are too difficult for the child to integrate into their conscious experience. This process of dissociation is not a conscious process. It takes place in order for the child to survive. Although there are exceptions, it is often many years later, when this child is a grown adult, that they begin to recognize that their experience of the world, or of people, or of the way they process and handle emotions and experiences, is different than most people.
I have been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, specifically DDNOS, or Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This is a very tricky and complicated diagnosis. It could mean that I have some symptoms of dissociation but they don’t necessarily fit any of the criteria for a specific dissociative disorder. Meaning, they aren’t quite sure what to make of me. It could also mean that I am close to fitting the DID diagnosis – Dissociative Identity Disorder – but don’t match all the criteria. “DID-like DDNOS”, as some refer to it. Either way, it’s not easy to wrap my brain around it.
Enough with the academic stuff!
The reason I brought this up is because my dissociation reared its little head today. I say that not to give one the impression that dissociation is mostly absent from my life but bestows its graces upon me every once in a while; rather dissociation is so integral to my life and my way of being, I don’t actually know how I would operate without it.
What happened was, some part of my mind was extremely upset that I wrote the previous blog about my family. Someone who doesn’t dissociate would probably be able to communicate between these conflicting parts of themselves – the part that wants to write about their dysfunctional family and the part that wants to not discuss these things openly. These different parts of my brain, however, don’t communicate in the way a normal brain might. I was not aware, as I was writing the last blog about my family, that there was any part of me that objected to what I was sharing. That is, until I post it.
Then what started to happen was, I began to feel “not well.” That’s really the only accurate way I can describe it. Something felt off inside, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. This feeling of uneasiness grew and grew. Then, I started feeling this pressure pushing out from inside of me, a very uncomfortable sensation. I started to connect the dots at this point: maybe this has to do with what I just posted on my blog. So I asked myself, is this about what I wrote? And then a part of my mind responded, “You had no right to share those things. It is totally inappropriate and unacceptable.” At that, I begun feeling as though I had been drugged. It was hard for me to stay focused on any one thing. I kept forgetting my train of thought, and I had to keep reminding myself where I was. I was outside walking, and every few steps a voice in my head would say, “What…?” Like, someone just said something to them that they couldn’t quite hear. It was like walking through a thick fog. Every few steps after that I would hear a voice in my head say, “Where am I?” and it would take me a second to catch my bearings. Okay, I’m in such-and-such city, and I’m doing such-and-such. But a few seconds later I would forget and then have to ask myself the questions all over again. I wasn’t really exaggerating when I said I could relate to the fish Dory! Sometimes, when the dissociation is strong, nothing seems to stick. It’s hard to even remember who I am and what I’m doing.
As far as I know, I don’t have alters in the way that people who have DID have alters. But I do have dissociated self states, or “dissociated ego states”, that are separate from each other to some degree or another. Each having different feelings, different thoughts, different opinions. It’s just, the barrier that divides these different parts is not as clear cut as someone who has DID, where their alters have a stronger sense of themselves, and are able to differentiate, to a better extent, where one alter stops and another alter starts. For me, these lines are usually quite blurred.
This is what my mind feels like sometimes